Accountability needed to end excessive use of...
Israel’s use of military force against Palestinian civilians is a prominent feature of its occupation regime. Israel’s military and security services maintain an intense regime of surveillance, physical violence against people, and destruction of Palestinian homes, schools, and properties. Israel’s use of excessive force has been repeatedly condemned by the United Nations, and has been deemed unlawful by human rights experts.
The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, Michael Lynk, welcomed the findings and recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry mandated by the Human Rights Council last May, to investigate all alleged violations and abuses of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
“It found reasonable grounds to believe that, in all but two of the 189 fatalities investigated, the use of live ammunition by Israeli security forces against demonstrators was unlawful,” Lynk said . “Accordingly, I support the Commission’s call for accountability with respect to those who used lethal fire unlawfully, and for those who drafted and approved the rules of engagement which permitted this illegal use of lethal fire.”
The Special Rapporteur noted that, since the start of 2019, Israeli security forces have continued to respond to protests along the fence with tear gas, rubber coated bullets and live ammunition. As a result, a further five children have been killed in the past two months.
On 8 February live ammunition killed boys aged 14 and 17 during a protest. Just four days later, a 16-year-old boy was hit in the head by a tear gas canister: “According to human rights organisations, the three boys posed no threat to Israeli forces”, the statement added.
The UN expert reiterated that international human rights instruments pertaining to law enforcement provide that firearms may only be used against persons if there is an imminent threat to life or risk of serious injury. He added that, in the context of an occupation, the killings at the Gaza fence resulting from the unlawful use of force might well constitute willful killings of the protected population, which constitute a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention and potentially a war crime under the Rome Statute.
“We must ensure legal accountability and end impunity for the excessive use of force against largely peaceful Palestinian demonstrators, and the resulting arbitrary deprivation of life,” said the Special Rapporteur. “This is a grave violation of their right to life and it abrogates their guaranteed freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association.”
Lynk also endorsed the recommendations of the Commission that the de facto authorities in Gaza failed in their duties to prevent the indiscriminate use of incendiary kites and balloons, which caused economic damage and civilian fear in southern Israel.
He also endorsed the Commission’s call for an immediate lifting of the Israeli blockade of Gaza, which has repeatedly been described by recent UN Secretary-Generals as a prohibited form of collective punishment of the people of Gaza. In particular, he noted the dire impact of the blockade on the Gazan health system, which has significantly contributed to the deteriorating quality of health in the Strip.
As the one-year anniversary of the “Great March of Return” on 30 March 2019 draws closer, and in view of the ever-deteriorating economic and humanitarian situation in Gaza, the Special Rapporteur expressed concern over possible rising levels of violence if no firm action was taken to pursue accountability and justice. “Continuing to suffocate Gaza is a blot on the world’s conscience and a recipe for more bloodshed,” Lynk said. “Restoring Gaza and ensuring justice and accountability would give the region hope that a better Middle East is possible.”